Close Browser Window
Jonathan Clark Fine Art manages the estate of IVON HITCHENS, please contact the gallery for more information on available stock


...the visual 'sound' is of the first and greatest importance.

Without it the picture is useless... My pictures are painted to be 'listened' to.

click image to visit Jonathan Clark fine art online collection of Ivon Hitchens estate
click image to view album

I von Hitchens always painted. As a young man he was drawn to Shelley's poetry and early on took up the numinous qualities of river vista and the wilder English countryside and transformed them into a highly thought-out structure that extended the spatial logic of Cezanne into something of his own. Almost alone amongst his English contemporaries, he developed a sensual use of colour, paint texture and the language of brushwork. Through spontaneity and communicable intuition his work tells us, so pleasurably, things we could learn no other way.

He studied for four years at the Royal Academy Schools in London during the First World War. In the l920's and 30's he lived in a studio in Adelaide Road, Hampstead, one of a circle of hard-up, avant-garde artists that included Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Naum Gabo, Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson.

In l940 a bomb landed next door to the studio and changed the direction of his life. Ivon, with his wife Mollie, set off to camp on land bought the year before in Sussex.

Their new home - a showman's caravan with large wooden wheels - was towed out from the village by cart-horse and deposited under silver birch, chestnut and oak trees. After the birth of their son John, a two-storey house was built and as the sale of paintings increased, flat-roofed studios and conservatories were nudged up against the building like the shelves of fungi on the trees around them. Oil lamps and paraffin heaters, with their endless demand to be trimmed and cleaned, were their only source of light and heat.

For forty years, these six acres of woodland near Midhurst were to Hitchens as Walden pond was to Thoreau: his place of study; his microcosm; his inspiration.

The house and studios still stand in the woods, the paths winding between giant rhododendron are still cleared back in the summer; the earth underfoot still spongy under a thick cayrpet of leaves.

Wind gusts through the tops of trees; willow, water; silver birch reflected in a pond. The blue door. A statue covered with scabs and spots of lichen. Branches green with moss snake across the paths; sandy soil, the eruptions of mole hills; acid yellow puffballs litter the dark earth; tiered sheaths of fungi sprout from sloughed-off bark. The divided oak, halved to the ground in the great storm, gives off shoots from its fallen trunk which lift into fifteen foot saplings.

I paint life as I see it, hear it, feel it, smell it and think it, but above all see it. It is sifted through one's intelligence. The canvas receives Life - becomes alive, gives back life and finally shows the relativity of nature.

An empty boat on a small pond. A workman's hut become boathouse. A bridge arches onto an island, its sides cross-hatched, its floor the wicked-witch green of slippery planking, not like Monet's immaculate arch over lily ponds, but weathered, English style, over a unity of pale duckweed. Water cropped with the dead sheaths of flag irises. Dead leaves balanced on pools of reflection below chestnut trees. A woodland vista. Then out into bracken land, fifteen feet green in high summer, collapsed in autumn into russet swathes, its shrivelled lace curled back to slanted stick. A forgotten orchard.

He worked direct from nature. Every morning, after breakfast he would vanish to the studio. Brushes were shaken out from their pails of water. He never cleaned them so that a residue of colour might show through the next day's paint. If the weather was dry, he would gather all the paraphernalia needed for a day's work, load it onto a wheelbarrow and push it along the narrow paths between high rhododendron to the day's chosen spot. Sometimes everything was carted up onto the flat roofs of the studios or set up by one of the two small artificial ponds near the house; or a taxi called to take him up to the Downs or along to a neighbouring mill or river.

Once one commences to paint so many factors come into play that one has to plunge in and swim for dear life, hoping to reach the opposite shore .

His deliberations came before the actual painting. The original idea, put down in line drawings and notes, would often be abandoned in favour of a more spontaneous working of the subject. He allowed none of the careful preparation to slow him down. (It took him forty years, he said, to unlearn his academic training.) Towards the end of a series he would paint directly onto the canvas - a race into joy.

At other times he allowed the original sketch marks to show through at the finish: lines slashed across the white canvas with the vigour of outsize calligraphy. His friend, Patrick Heron, pointed out that in an era when the paintbrush with all its variety of language is being obliterated, Hitchens'abstract units... are not unrelated to the brush work on the best Sung pots.'

He adopted the horizontal shaped canvas, the double square. With it he could play with the tensions between the left and right sides of the composition, encouraging the spectator's eye to move from distance to foreground and from side to side. He let go of shading and weight, sometimes even reversing it. The white spaces of the canvas were a means of letting a shape define itself. They stopped the picture from becoming breathless, he said, and allowed the eye to travel 'from floe to floe'. This is what challenged him: to let go of traditional painting leading to a complete reconstruction of the facts of nature, A cow, a tree, a house are not really separate objects but one unity, a scale in space.

Throughout his life he made line drawings mostly of his family and people working the land, or as sketches for an idea. The drawing skill, deliberately held back in his landscapes and flower paintings, shows in the unfudged, confident lines of the figure. Details read like the shorthand of Matisse and the objects in the room react, as though the body were a chord resonating throughout the canvas.

He painted several huge murals. The largest, completed in 1954, was sixty-nine feet long. For four years the studios were festooned with strips of canvas looped onto bars hung from the ceilings like roller towels. When a section was finished, he would pull it up or down and continue on the fresh canvas. He never saw the whole painting until it was in situ.

In the last decade of his life his palette became even more vibrant in its bold juxtaposition of colour. These exuberant canvases are astonishing for a man who completed his final painting two weeks before his death at eighty-six. It's as if he had shouldered a lifetime's knowledge, let go, and jumped into colour with both feet flying.

Life is so horribly short that ideas which I've had for creating something entirely different get shelved and put aside day after day... I put my head out of the door and there's a new subject again which is calling, crying out to be painted.... one settles in on that and before one knows where one is, June, July, August, September have gone by, and there's the Autumn.

Naomi Brandel Jan 2000
All words highlithed are taken from Ivon Hitchens' letters or notes



1893 Born in London on 3rd March, son of Alfred Hitchens, painter. Educated at Bedales School,
           St. John's Wood School of Art (1911) and the Royal Academy Schools (1911-12, 1914-16 and 1918-19)

1920 Elected member of Seven and Five Society

1925 First one-man exhibition at the Mayor Gallery, London

1929 Elected member of the London Artists' Association

1931 Elected member of the London Group

1934 Participated in Objective Abstractions exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery

1935 Married Mary Cranford Coates

1937 Elected member of the Society of Mural Painters

1940 Studio in London bombed, moved to West Sussex. Son John born. First of ten one-man exhibitions at the           Leicester Galleries

1945 First retrospective exhibition at Temple Newsam House, Leeds

1951 Awarded purchase prize in the Arts Council Festival of Britain exhibition, 60 paintings for '51

1954 Completed the mural in the hall of Cecil Sharp House in Regent's Park Road, London

1955 Publication of the first monogragh on his work by Patrick Heron, in the Penguin Modern Painters series

1956 Represented Britain at the XXVIII Venice Biennale

1958 Created C.B.E. June

1959 Completed Late Summer Parkland with a Lake for Nuffield College, Oxford. Special mention at XI Premio           Lissone, Italy

1960 First one-man exhibition at Waddington Galleries, London

1962 Installation of mural painting Day's Rest, Day's Work at University of Sussex, Brighton

1963 Major retrospective exhibition arranged by the Arts Council at the Tate Gallery, London

1973 Publication of a monograph (with 120 colour plates) edited by Alan Bowness, Lund Humphries, London

1979 Third retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy Diploma Galleries. Died 29th August

1990 Publication of a monograph, (with 100 colour and 50 black and white plates) by Peter Khoroche, André           Deutsch, London

Selected one - man Exhibitions
1925 Mayor Gallery, London
1928 Arthur Tooth & Sons, London
1929 London Artists' Association, Cooling Galleries
1930 Heal's Mansard Gallery, London
1933 Alex Reid & Lefevre, London (also 1935 and 37)
1940 Leicester Galleries, London (also in 1942, 44, 47, 49, 50, 52, 54, 57 and 59)
1945 Temple Newsam House, Leeds (retrospective)
1948 Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield (retrospective)
1953 Second International Art Exhibition, Metropolitan Art Gallery, Tokyo
1956 Gimpel Fils, London
1956 XXVIII Venice Biennale, British Pavilion
1958 Laing Art Galleries, Toronto
1960 Waddington Galleries, London (also in 1962, 64, 66, 68, 69, 71,73, 76, 82, 85, 90, 93 and 96)
1963 Tate Gallery, London (retrospective)
1964 Civic Art Gallery, Southampton, University of Southampton Arts Festival
1966 Tib Lane Gallery, Manchester Poindexter Gallery, New York Worthing Art Gallery
1967 Stone Gallery, Newcastle
1971 Basil Jacobs Fine Art, London
1972 Landscape into Abstract, Rutland Gallery, London
1978 Burstow Gallery, Brighton College
1978 Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne (retrospective)
1979 Royal Academy of Arts, London (retrospective)
1980 Bohun Gallery, Henley-on-Thames
1982 New Art Centre, London
1987 Oriel 31, Welshpool and Newtown, Powys
1989 Serpentine Gallery, London (retrospective)
1991 Cleveland Bridge Gallery, Bath
1993 Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London Pallant House Gallery, Chichester Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal

Selected Public Collections
Great Britain
Aberdeen Art Gallery
Barnsley: Cannon Hall Museum and Art Gallery
Bath Art Gallery
Bedford: Cecil Higgins Museum and Art Gallery
Belfast: Ulster Museum
Birmingham: City Museum and Art Gallery
Bradford City Art Gallery
Brighton Art Gallery
Bristol: City Museum and Art Gallery
Bury Art Gallery
Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum
Cardiff: National Museum of Wales
Chichester: Pallant House Gallery
Eastbourne: Towner Art Gallery
Edinburgh: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Glasgow Art Gallery
Harrogate Art Gallery
Huddersfield Art Gallery
Kettering Art Gallery
Kingston-upon-Hull: Ferens Art Gallery
Leamington Spa: Warwick District Council Art Gallery
Leeds: City Art Galleries
Leicester: City Museum and Art Gallery
Liverpool: Walker Art Gallery
London: Courtauld Institute Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts
Tate Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum
Manchester: City Art Galleries, Whitworth Art Gallery
Middlesbrough Art Gallery
Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Laing Art Gallery
Norwich: Castle Museum
Nottingham: Castle Museum and Art Gallery
Oxford: Ashmolean Museum
Rochdale Art Gallery
Rugby Art Gallery
Salford Art Gallery
Sheffield: City Art Galleries
Shrewsbury Art Gallery
Southampton Art Gallery
Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery
Swindon Museum and Art Gallery
Wakefield: City Museum and Art Gallery

Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia
Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria
Perth: Art Gallery of Western Australia
Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales
Montreal: Museum of Fine Arts
Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada
Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario
Vancouver: Art Gallery of Vancouver
Paris: Musée National d'Art Moderne
Nelson: Bishop Suter Art Gallery
Wellington: National Gallery of New Zealand
Oslo: National Gallery
Natal: Tatham Art Gallery
Gothenburg Art Museum
Connecticut: Yale Center for British Art, New Haven
Massachusetts: Smith Art Museum, Northampton
New York: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
Seattle Art Gallery
Toledo Museum of Art